Michael Franti and Spearhead
7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Coca-Cola Bricktown Events Center
425 E. California
$25 advance, $29 door
It was a strange place for Michael Franti to find himself. In a quarter-century of making provocative, thought-provoking music with his college avant-punk band, The Beatnigs; industrial hip-hop’s Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy; and for 16 years now, as the leader of Spearhead, he never had enjoyed a top 20 single.
Adept at opening minds and challenging preconceptions, he also had never created anything that quite so effectively energized audiences like “Say Hey (I Love You)” did.
Written for Spearhead’s 2008’s “All Rebel Rockers,” it was something of an afterthought. The producers suggested the album lacked something, and Franti obliged with his most infectious song since his ’90s underground hit with Disposable Heroes, “Television, the Drug of a Nation.”
In many ways, the song was a direct response to his trip to Iraq, during which he filmed his documentary, “I Know I’m Not Alone.”
“When I got there, people would say to me, ‘We don’t want to hear songs about war and social issues. We want to hear songs that make us laugh and dance and sing and clap,'” he said. “If I was able to give someone happiness in a song, in that moment, that might be bigger than anything that I ever did in all the decades of writing political songs.”
This was a bold discovery for an artist who’d spent his lifetime railing against the crimes of the system and global injustice. Indeed, it’s only hinted at in Franti’s 2006 album, “Yell Fire!” The follow-up, “All Rebel Rockers,” seizes that spirit, but it really culminates with his new album, “The Sound of Sunshine.”
The release is Franti’s first for a major label since Spearhead’s 1997 disc, “Chocolate Supa Highway.”
Franti never really had his foot in radio’s door before, and with the new album, he set out to write a few songs that could take advantage of this opening. The title track is the first of these, but it was equally informed by another dramatic realization in Franti’s life, when he was stricken with life-threatening appendicitis while on tour.
“It was the same week that ‘Say Hey’ entered into the Top 20, and we’d never had a hit song, so we were all quite excited. And then I found myself wondering if I was going to live to hear it on the radio,” he said. “So things just took on a whole new frame for me. It was less important to me that I had a hit song and so much more important that my kids and my family and the people I love and care about were around me.”
The disc is an effortlessly upbeat, breezy blast of summery joy. If hope and positivity could be bottled, it’d go down much like “Sunshine.”
But he’s not only spreading this gospel musically. Franti is preparing to open a yoga retreat center on the island of Bali in December, to help others reconnect with themselves.
“One thing I found being an activist is that it’s not hard to become an activist,” he said. “All you have to do is show up, but it becomes hard year after year when you see the same things that we’re dealing with years ago are still happening today. It becomes hard to stay in it.” “Chris Parker